The grand departure of October 29 saw 7 skippers set off from A Coruna to join those who had left in the prior weeks taking the total of boats at sea to 14.
It was a brutal trial by fire debut for the late October starters in the Global Solo Challenge had to deal with the anger of the North Atlantic in autumn. After unanimously opting to delay their start from the 28th to the 29th morning, they nonetheless set off upwind in a 5 meter swell and winds accelerating to 35 knots gusting 60 around Cape Finisterre.
The first 48 hours brought their share of trouble for this group. Alessandro Tosetti on Aspra faced an all systems down issue with his autopilot caused by problems with the data network. After attempting to resolve the issue at sea whilst hove to, he opted to sail to the port of Leixoes near Porto in Portugal. The problem with the instruments proved to be quite trivial, a problem with the wind sensor cable connection was corrupting the whole data network. Alessandro was ready to set off again for his grand adventure but little did he know that the fluvial port of Leixoes has an area of sand banks at its exit which forces the local authorities to close off the port to navigation in bad weather. It was only on the morning of Monday 6th November that the port opened again causing Alessandro nearly a whole week lost.
The trial by fire did not spare the other skippers. Juan Merediz on Sorolla, suffered a multitude of problems, a broken mainsail halyard, issues with the hydraulic autopilot drive and issues with connecting to the satellite network to get up to date grib files. Juan headed for the first bay after the Cabo Sao Vicente, protected by the headland of Sagres, where he anchored and assessed the situation. Fatigue must have been a contributing factor to the problems when navigating in very difficult conditions. In fact the first issue to be resolved was the satcoms connection: the wrong password had been used to login. The autopilot problems were more serious and in a jigsaw exercise of electronics and mechanics, out of two autopilots on board Sorolla, Juan managed to re-wire and re-build one functioning unit. In order to climb the mast and change the mainsail halyard the skipper sailed to the next bay which was even more protected from the swell. Once the cold front, echo of the distant storm Ciaran, passed through, Juan set off during the early hours of the 5th of November. For 24 hours he was one of the fastest boats in the entire GSC fleet. Unfortunately on the morning of the 6th disaster struck again, new autopilot issues forced Juan to heave to again. At the time of writing we do not know if this is a final curtain on his 2023 GSC or just a temporary slow down for Sorolla.
Other boats suffered lesser problems and some skippers like Dave Linger on Koloa Maoli and Cole Brauer on First Light whilst not faced with technical issues, were challenged by severe sea sickness and dehydration.They are both well now!
The GSC fleet now stretches from Porto (Aspra) to as far as the Kerguelen Islands. Dafydd Hughes on Bendigedig has kept an amazing pace right on target for his expected performance and is the only boat to be sailing in the remoteness of the Indian Ocean nearly midway between Cape Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin. Dafydd’s humorous updates and amazing performance have earned him a worldwide following.
In second place on the water, but effectively first in terms of expected time of arrival is Philippe Delamare on Mowgli. His impeccable navigation and relentless rhythm have earned him day after day some advantage on his theoretical finish time. For all boats this is the 15th of March. Dafydd and Philippe are the only two boats that are currently overperforming their target speeds. For the duo, the increased speeds achievable in followind winds in the south make this possible, whilst the rest of the fleet has barely started or has not yet hooked onto stable following winds.
Speed and exciting downwind big waves surfing are every sailor’s dream but they can come at a price. Whilst sailing just east of Tristan da Cunha, the cold front of the first proper southern ocean low swept over Mowgli, bringing confused and crossed seas. Two breaking waves laid Philippe Delamare’s boat flat on its side. The skipper contacted the event organisers to inform all was well on board, no damage to vessel or injury to skipper. The Starlink antenna, however, mounted on top of the pushpit, was totally submerged during both knockdowns and is now unserviceable. Philippe had delighted us with some very funny videos including one gone viral of his soft toy monkey at the helm.
In third position on the water is Edouard de Keyser on Solarwind who after his stopovers at the Cape Verde archipelago in Mindelo and at Marina Jakarè in Brasil has rejoined the GSC and things seem to be looking up at this stage as Edouard who has been sailing on course with good pace indicating presumably that the technical issues he had encountered have been mostly addressed. The skipper however could not tend to all issues and he’s planning a stop in Cape Town, or at least this appears to be the plan at present.
4th of the water, and the only other boat in the fleet to have celebrated the crossing of the equator, is Louis Robein on le Souffle de la Mer III. The quiet but incredibly determined skipper has faced a multitude of issues with his hydrogenerator mounts and his autopilot ram mount. 24 hours spent going in circles caused some apprehension back on land last week. With little power on board and his head mostly upside down in the lazarette, Louis was not responding to satellite phone calls. When the phone stopped ringing, despite a route suggesting he must have been hove to, organisers have alerted MRCC Cross Gris Nez so that the situation could be monitored with their help. The renowned French MRCC, whose name often rises to the spotlight during incidents in the Vendée Globe, took charge of the situation with extreme efficiency and commanding authority. Just a few hours after the initial call a cargo vessel had been diverted to the location of the Le Souffle de la Mer III. The loud horn of the cargo immediately attracted Louis’s attention and after a brief conversation on VHF he reported no need for assistance. The operation was precautional and fortunately Louis was not in an emergency situation, but we all have to thank the incredible dedication and professionalism of those who assist mariners. The following day Louis was back on course and sent an update with full details of his trial and tribulations in repairing the mounts that had given him problems, and had forced him to heave to repeatedly on one tack then the other. He has proceeded steadily since.
Aside from the pack of chasing wolves that set off on the 29th of October, the trio of Ari Kansakoski on Zero Challenge, Pavlin Nadvorni on Espresso Martini and William MacBrien on Phoenix who left A Coruna on the 21st, continue their descent past the Cape Verde archipelago and towards the doldrums.
Pavlin has given us a tour of what tough men from slavic countries are made of. Following issues with his autopilot Pavlin hand-steered Espresso Martini for two days to reach the isle of Sao Vicente where he needed to anchor to free the prop axis from an entangled rope and to either fix his autopilot or get his backup Hydrovane functional. In the “lee” for Sao Vicente, with katabatic winds falling like rocks from the volcanic islands from any direction and with gusts exceeding 30 knots, Pavlin had to anchor with all his chain and rode in deep waters and dived to free the tangled lines and climbed the mast to tend to an entangled spinnaker, which he had been unable to douse. Unable to fix his autopilot or get a replacement part in any reasonable time frame, Pavlin rigged his Hydrovane rudder and set off to chase Ari, his direct buddy of many gybes.
In fact, at the time of writing Ari‘s boat was the first to slow down at the edge of the Intertropical Convergence Zone. This area of the sea between the stable northeast and southeast trade winds is also known as the doldrums and it will cause an elastic effect when boats will wade their way through. Skippers will appear to catch up compressing from behind ahead of the doldrums only to later be released one by one from the sticky windless area into the southeastern trades, often re-establishing the original gaps. However, on light displacement racing boats the doldrums are as much a difficult area to get through as an opportunity to make significant relative gains on direct competitors. Light winds sailors giving their blood and tears in every breath of wind could come out the other side having gained significant ground.
Dave Linger on Koloa Maoli and Francois Gouin on Kawan 3 Unicancer reported relief from the easing conditions after their challenging start, whilst Ronnie Simpson on Shipyard Brewing, Cole Brauer on First Light and Riccardo Tosetto on Obportus 3 are in full racing mode. The Canaries saw the trio split with Cole taking the longer route west, where stronger winds were expected. At the time of writing she had managed to reduce the gap to Shipyard Brewing and overtake Obportus.
Next to leave A Coruna are Kevin Le Poidevin or Roaring 40 and Andrea Mura on Vento di Sardegna. Kevin was delayed by an injury to his back and is expected to set off at the first weather opportunity probably on the 9th of November. Andrea Mura is delivering his boat to Coruna and stopped in Portimao to see storm Ciaran blow through and wait for his weather window to sail north to A Coruna. Their imminent departure will bring the total number of boats at sea to 16.
After them another two skippers are due to set off but it can’t be taken as given. Both Curt Morlock based at V1D2 in Caen and Volkan Kaan Yemlihaoğlu in Turkey are facing, as it has been the case for many, significant challenges with their campaigns, especially on the funding front, as bigger boats require bigger budgets. They have not yet thrown in the towel and we have to wait the coming weeks if making the start is at all possible for the two skippers.
The road is still very very long for all, but what an exciting week this was!